Leeds City Council could impose charges or rush-hour bans on some of the city’s most congested roads as a part of a new Government strategy to tackle illegal levels of air pollution.
Council leaders are already in the process of drawing up a plan to improve air quality in the city, after it was identified as one of several UK hotspots back in 2015.
However, the Government has now identified five roads in Leeds where levels of harmful nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions are exceeding legal limits.
And under its new clean air plan, councils could have the option of introducing levies on the most polluting cars to speed up their efforts to meet air quality targets.
Air pollution – and in particular NO2 – is believed to contribute to around 40,000 deaths in the UK each year, as well as being linked to heart disease and lung problems.
The Government has already lost two court cases over its failure to tackle excessive NO2 levels, and earlier this year was ordered to publish its new strategy to curb emissions by July 31.
Unveiling the new plan today, Environment Secretary Michael Gove described it as “one element” of a programme that would “deliver clean air for the whole country”.
But it was widely criticised by MPs and councillors for lacking ambition and for “passing the buck” onto local authorities.
Measures set out in the strategy include a commitment to ending the sale of all new conventional petrol and diesel cars by 2040, and a consultation on a diesel scrappage scheme.
Ministers also announced a £255m fund to help councils identified as pollution hotspots to implement local plans, and a further £100m to upgrade or replace older, more heavily-polluting busses.
A total of 81 roads were flagged up by the document for their high NO2 levels, include the A58, A643, A61, A58M and M621. These have been found to either exceed the statutory limit for emissions, or be “marginally compliant”.
Local authorities are required to produce draft plans by next March setting out how they plan to tackle pollution in these areas. The Government has stressed that councils should avoid imposing fees where alternative measures would prove equally effective in reducing emissions – however it also notes that in some areas, charging could bring pollution levels within legal limits as early as 2021.
As one of five cities asked to introduce a Clean Air Zone back in 2015, Leeds is already well underway in drawing up a local plan to reduce NO2 levels.
Commenting on the new strategy, executive board member for environment and sustainability Lucinda Yeadon said: “In Leeds we take the issue of air pollution very seriously and are already well on with modelling and research into a number of potential initiatives we could introduce in the city to improve air quality.
“We will of course be going out to consult with all relevant audiences before implementing a clean air solution for Leeds, and will be taking a paper to our executive board later this year with a number of recommendations for the next steps forward.”